Across the area

Bill would help Tech survivors

ATLANTA --- A House bill seeks to exempt from Georgia income taxes any benefits paid to the survivors of last year's Virginia Tech shooting.

Authored by Rep. Quincy Murphy, D-Augusta, the bill is specifically aimed at helping the family of Ryan Clark of Martinez. The lone gunman, Cho Seung-Hui, killed Mr. Clark and 31 others before killing himself during a rampage on the campus last April. Forty-seven people were injured in the worst shooting massacre in U.S. history.

Mr. Murphy said he is following the example of Congress and Virginia in removing the tax on payouts from the fund, which has totaled $8.5 million from 21,000 contributors.

The survivors of those killed received a payment of $208,000, and those injured received amounts up to $100,000, based on advice from a dispute-resolution expert.

12, 13-year old take family car

Two runaway South Carolina middle-schoolers took a family car, got money from an Augusta ATM machine and drove to suburban Atlanta before police caught them Monday.

The children -- identified as Summer Wood, 13, and Bryce Garrison, 12, both of Walhalla - were "safe in police custody" after being found by Barrow County sheriff's deputies at about 7:45 p.m. in Bethlehem, Ga., a police spokeswoman said.

Authorities tracked the boy and girl after tracing a cell phone call from Augusta on Monday morning. One of them also used a parent's ATM card here, police said.

Police think the two left home in northwest South Carolina on Sunday night, driving a 2005 four-door Dodge Stratus .

Aiken County school reports meningitis

Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary pupils and parents were alerted to possible exposure to bacterial meningitis Monday, according to Aiken County school officials.

Letters were sent by the district and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control letting families know that one pupil had meningitis, an infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Letters contained information about the disease and what parents should do if they suspect symptoms. For more information, call the district's supervising nurse at (803) 641-2417.

- From staff reports

Aiken County's pet Web site back online

Pet lovers can again find furry friends in Aiken County through www.petfinder.com. The Aiken County Animal Shelter went back online with pet adoption listings last week and now has more than 20 animals available for adoption.

You can visit www.petfind and search by distance or shelter to your area.

Aiken County will only handle adoptions within a two-hour driving distance of the shelter.

Adoptions are $70 and include rabies vaccination, microchipping and spaying or neutering.

-- From staff reports

COURT BRIEFS

THE ACLU HAS ASKED MAYOR DEKE COPENHAVER to take action to ensure that Augusta attorney Robert Mullins be allowed to address the city commission at the next regular meeting Feb. 19.

Mr. Mullins is the lawyer for the Association for Fair Government in a suit against the city that seeks to gain access to public documents. Mr. Mullins petitioned the commission in December to speak to the commission but Mr. Copenhaver kept him from speaking. Mr. Mullins complained in writing to city attorney Stephen Shepard that his constitutional right to free speech had been violated and requested to speak at a subsequent meeting but was advised by Mr. Shepard's office that he was in violation of the State Bar of Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct. However, those rules allow for communications by a lawyer on behalf of a client who is exercising a constitutional or other legal right to communicate with the government, according to Azadeh N. Shahshahani, American Civil Liberties Union interim legal director.

-- Sylvia Cooper

ATLANTA -- THE TRIAL OF ASHBY KROUSE, the son-in-law of former -state Sen. Don Cheeks, has hit another delay with the judge running into a scheduling conflict.

Mr. Krouse, an Augusta real estate appraiser, is charged with a felony in connection with 98 acres of swampland he sold to the state Department of Transportation for 10 times what he paid for it at a time when Mr. Cheeks was serving on the Senate Transportation Committee in 2004. Neither Mr. Cheeks, R-Augusta, nor his daughter have been charged.

On Monday the Attorney General's Office announced that Judge Carlisle Overstreet wrote all of the involved lawyers about the snag with the April 15-16 scheduled dates and asked them to suggest new dates. Russ Willard, spokesman for Attorney General Thurbert Baker, said it's not unusual for judges to change trial dates when conflicts arise.

The trial had already been delayed once when Mr. Krouse hired a relative of the original judge as part of his legal team, forcing the case to be reassigned to an unrelated jurist.

-- Morris News Service

TRAFFIC BRIEF

- A portion of East Boundary Street from Broad Street to Laney-Walker Boulevard will be closed until March 10 as part of an improvement project, according to a Richmond County Engineering Department news release.

- From Wednesday through Friday, pavement repairs will force the closure of about 1,500 feet of the outside westbound lane of Washington Road starting at the Wal-Mart in Evans. The lane will be closed from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, according to Columbia County officials. Motorists approaching the closure should prepare to merge left.